What to Do When a Tenant Abandons a Rental Property

tenant abandonment

Image by Lindsey Turner via Flickr

Even the best of landlords deal with nightmare tenants. Besides landlord-tenant disputes and resident evictions, another headache that can come with the job is resident abandonment. What do you do when a resident abandons the property without notice? Before you clean out the unit and list it for rent, it’s important to follow the correct legal procedure for dealing with property abandonment.

Give notice before entering

Even if multiple neighbors tell you they saw the resident move out weeks ago, you still need to give the tenant advance notice before entering the property. Send a written notice, contact the resident numerous times, and give them the appropriate advance notice required by your state’s laws. As always, double check your state and local rental laws before moving forward.

Document the inspection

Be very careful when you enter the unit. Legally, you don’t have possession of the property yet. The resident could be out of town or in the process of moving. Bring a witness with you for the inspection and use a camera or videotape to document the condition of the unit. Photographic evidence will show what was abandoned and the value of the belongings in case a claim is brought against you by the tenant for disposing of their belongings. Check that the resident didn’t leave any dangerous or hazardous conditions when they left the unit. Look for signs of abandonment, such as missing furniture or expensive electronics.

Don’t throw anything out

Your first reflex may be to clear the unit of all the tenant’s personal belongings, but not so fast. When a resident abandons a unit, the law requires you to care for the personal property and return it to the tenant. Disposing of items prematurely could result in a claim from the tenant that you owe them for the items they left behind, leaving you with a hefty replacement fee (especially if you haven’t documented the items that were abandoned). Check how long your state law requires you to hold the belongings.

Decide on the best course of action

Once you’ve confirmed that the resident has abandoned the unit, the best course of action will probably be to go forward with your state’s procedure for abandonment. This usually involves holding the tenant’s property for up to one month and letting them know where their belongings are being held and where they can be claimed. Depending on the situation, evicting the resident or having them sign a release of rights of possession (if they can be reached) is also an option. Consult professional legal advice to find out the best way to proceed in your situation.

Resident abandonment puts landlords in a tricky situation. Do your research on state and local laws concerning abandonment and follow them closely to protect yourself from legal trouble.

Important: The advice in this article should not be used in place of legal advice. If you suspect that your tenant has abandoned the unit, we recommend seeking professional legal help to navigate your situation.

tenant abandonment